What is Yin Yoga?
Updated: Jan 1, 2022
Besides it being my favourite style of yoga, with the most instant results I ever feel, Yin is often described as an anatomical practice that focuses on lengthening the body’s deep connective tissues. With Yin you can target a certain collection of muscles or tissues, nurse an injury, calm the mind, practice meditation, and more. Yin and yang as per tradition, are opposite of one another. If solely practiced on its own, Yin leaves the body incomplete. This is why I offer Yoga Flow as well, as the yang to my yin practice.
There is a strong level of surrender needed, to practice yin. Surrendering or yielding to your body, mind, and breath.
Benefits of Yin:
Yin strengthens and stretches your connective tissue (Fascia) and muscles. It helps to increase your range of motion. Reorganizes the collagen fibers. Stimulates GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid – a neurotransmitter that sends messages from our brain to our nervous system.) It even increases the production of hyaluronic acid – a lubricating substance that is naturally produced by our bodies. Personally, I find practicing Yin a necessity, to keep up my active lifestyle, knowing I can take care of my body.
Yin yoga as mentioned before requires or at least encourages surrender, communication, and mindfulness. It is more of a meditative practice, and therefore helps remind the mind to be more still and present in each pose. Yin encourages us to move from a reactive mind to a responsive mind. Develops patience, and helps us to practice more self-love and self healing.
Although I’m not one who has gone deep into the energetic connections to yoga, I think it is still important to recognize them. Yin yoga stimulates energy in the Meridians, stimulating Chi energy. It stimulates energy in the Chakras and encourages movement, releasing any energetic blocks. Yin stimulates the Nadis, encouraging balance to the right and left sides of our brain. Yin also encourages a deeper connection to our breath (Pranayama).
There are 3 principles to Yin Yoga.
1. Come to YOUR edge of the pose. Be aware of what you are feeling. Are you feeling any pain or discomfort in the pose? Discomfort is ok, pain is NOT. If you feel pain (sharp feeling in a joint as an example) the pose is likely not serving you. Ask your yoga teacher for a pose that can serve you better. Our bodies respond well to stress and pressure (especially the fascia). Find your “Goldie locks” of each pose. Not too much, not too little, just right. When we say find your edge, this is NOT your PEAK. Your peak means you could not go deeper into the pose, if you tried. The edge of your pose can be found by going to your peak, and then backing off 10-20%. Your edge can change from day to day, be sure to listen to your body. Come to a place of resistance in the pose. Resistance in your mind, body, or both. Allow your body to open, by letting go.
2. Stillness. Stillness in your body, mind, and breathe. Stillness in the body; avoid fidgeting, consciously create stillness and surrender. Avoid unnecessary movement. What is necessary is up to you. If a pose is not serving you, movement may be necessary (if you’re experiencing numbness or pain). Stillness of the mind. Allow Yin to be more meditative. Get to know yourself. Awareness deepens with stillness and silence. If it helps, find a mantra. Mantra is anything repeated. One I go to fairly regularly lately is “I am loved.” Lastly is Stillness of breath. This does NOT mean hold your breath. Instead think steadiness vs stillness. Deep slow breathes send your mind and body a different message, then short shallow breaths do. Body, Mind, Breath, don’t let one carry the other 2 away. It is all connected.
3. Hold. Time in a posture can be anywhere from 1-20 minutes, depending on the pose. In my classes 5-6 minutes are usually my longest holds. The reason behind long holds, is because of the fascia. Fascia responds like plastic; it needs pressure and time to change. If doing a yin practice on your own, start with shorter length holds and build up, as you get to know your body.
Things to remember. How a pose feels is more important then how it looks. Every human body is different, comparing how we look to others is in no way serving ourselves well. We use the poses to get into the body, no the body to get into the pose. Yin is a practice of surrender. In any yoga practice there is always some ratio of effort and surrender. In yin there should always be more surrender than effort. There are 3 ways your body may respond to yin. The pose may become more intense over the duration of time in the pose. The pose may become less intense. Or a pose maybe sneaky and you don’t feel much until you come out of the pose.
One last thought, before you join a yin class, props. There is huge benefit to using props in any yoga class, but especially in yin. Having access to blocks, straps, bolsters, blankets, or even pillows can allow you to get into your edge better, to stay in a position longer, or to simply fill in the gaps; helping you to fully surrender into a pose. Because I always want yoga to be accessible to EVERYONE, if blocks, bolsters, and straps are not something you own, here a few substitute options. Blocks – Textbooks, short stool, firm pillow, firm boxes. Bolsters – pillows, rolled up blankets, rolled up towels. Straps – dog leash, housecoat tie. I promise, I will show you how these can all be a benefit, when you join one of my classes.
The short version to all of this, that I think you should know… Yin Is In!! I can’t wait to share it with you. I hope to see you soon, on your mat.
By the way, a huge Thank You to my yogi guru, Crystal May. She introduced me to Yin yoga, and her course material for my 200hr yoga teacher training is the main source to this article. She articulates information so well, a lot of the information above is directly from her material – especially the really smart sounding stuff. Check her out at www.crystalmay.ca or on instagram @crystalmayyoga